A new study says that fewer toys means higher quality play for your little one.
Does every single one of your child’s 47 stuffed pandas spark joy? How about that sky-high stack of wooden puzzles, or every possible version of a princess available from the Disney Store?
If you ever needed a good reason to sweep through your kid's overflowing playroom and Marie Kondo your way down to a more manageable selection of playthings, here’s one: A new study says that the fewer toys your child has, the more quality play he or she will get out of each one.
Researchers at the University of Toledo observed how toddlers played with toys in two different situations: when they were put in a playroom with a choice of 4 toys or with 16 toys. When the children, who were all between 18 and 30 months old, were given fewer choices, they spent more time in quality, brain-stimulating play. The study explains that in the presence of “competing stimuli,” toddlers spend more time selecting which toy to play with than actually playing with the toy. Once they do choose a toy, they can be easily distracted by all the other enticing choices surrounding them. Think of it as toddler FOMO.
“Early in interactions with toys, toddlers would use more exploratory actions, like turning, placing, and poking,” explains Alexia E. Metz, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Toledo who co-authored the study. “But when the interactions extended for longer periods, play became more sophisticated. They played pretend—even acting out multiple scenarios with the same toy!—but also built with the toys and repeated actions with different variations.”
Metz goes on to explain that this kind of longer, more exploratory play has numerous benefits for the toddler brain, including helping develop better focus and attention, motor skills, creativity, social skills, and language. “There is rich literature about the benefits of play, but children can only access those benefits if they have a chance to engage quality play,” she explains.
This doesn’t mean you have to toss every last birthday gift or surprise from Grandma. “My findings suggest that parents should create opportunities for their children to play in situations with just a few toys available,” says Metz. “If there is an abundance of toys, parents might wish to find a way to store the majority of them out of sight and then take out a few at a time.” Not only will the smaller selection help your child bring a deeper sense of curiosity and engagement to her playtime, but—bonus!—you’ll have a lot less tidying up to do.